Bulk Buying

If you can make a saving on something...

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...you can "save" more by buying more of it! Provided, of course, that you will use it before it goes off, and you can store it properly. For example, a 5 Kg bag of decent potatoes costs £1.99 at our local supermarket, about 40p per kilo. But I can buy a 25Kg sack of the same variety for £2.95 at the market, or the fruit & veg. wholesalers on the other side of town, or from any number of farm shops; that's only 12p per kilo. As the 5kg bag will only last us for two meals, buying the sack will also save me several trips to the supermarket, and the impulse buys that always seem to creep into my basket there no matter how disciplined I think I'm going to be... well worth the storage space under my utility room sink! And then there's always something I can cook for tea, even if it is just baked potatos.

I've bought spuds by the sack for years now, and stocked up on supermarket special offers whenever I can, but I've only recently realised just how many other foods can be bought in bulk for big savings in both money and time. There is a cash & carry warehouse nearby that sells food in catering quantities; our local school is always glad to have volunteers to go and get goods there for fundraising efforts, and the membership cards need to be "exercised" regularly to remain valid, so we kill two birds with one stone and buy food for our families (and pets!) too. Huge bags of pasta and loorolls by the dozen are an especial delight, and a "tray" of 20 sliced loaves cost £2-something last time I bought one. They also sell stationery; if I paid full price for all the pens and pencils, rubbers and rulers my kids seem to need for school I'd be bankrupt by now. Self-employed people and small businesses also qualify for cards and may be glad of someone to help keep them valid - ask around your friends. Most warehouses also admit one or two "guest" shoppers on each card so make a morning out of it with a companion or two! But take a calculator; the prices displayed on non-food goods may not include VAT and thus may not be quite the bargains they appear...

If you have a Farmer's Market nearby, you should be able to buy eggs by the tray (30 - £3 for free-range round here) and apples by the box. These are often smaller than the apples supplied to supermarkets and thus ideal for school lunchboxes. Talk to the stall holders - they will often be willing to supply things like carrots or onions by the half-sack at a good discount on normal prices.

I also belong to a couple of bulk-buying groups, where people band together to buy things at the price that retailers buy them at; for example there is a 25Kg sack of granary flour in a big bin under my stairs, which cost me around £16 and will make 50 loaves in my bread machine - that's 32p a loaf, about 44p when you count in the other ingredients and electricity. It's £1.09 per kilo at the supermarket. From the same source I buy 10Kg sacks of rice, 5Kg bags of popping corn (a popcorn maker has been one of my better investments - cheap healthy snacks always available) and other "health" foods, which include supplies for allergy sufferers. One lucky member of the group collects all the orders, collates them, makes the order (which usually has to total over a certain amount, e.g. £75 or £100) and takes delivery of, or collects, the goods; payment may be required up front, or when the goods arrive. It works best when everything is kept fairly local so transport costs don't mount up. Ask around; if there isn't a group near you, you will probably find a few other people who are interested and that, and a supplier, are all you need to get started.

Most of us have known the frustration of realising we will have to buy more than one allegedly "family-size" supermarket packs to feed our brood. But you can beat the supermarkets at their own game by buying all own-brand goods or taking full advantage of special offers and BOGOFs (Buy One Get One Free, before you ask!) It's a rare month that I have to pay full price for catfood, and with 4 (rescued) cats to feed that's a great help... and does anyone ever pay full price for shampoo? There's always something on offer... Some offers are limited in quantity, to stop other retailers stocking up & reselling at a profit elsewhere, so I have been known to go through the checkouts several times in one visit - I make sure the assistants know why I'm doing it, though. And if they are running low on something I won't do it; I wouldn't want to feel someone even less well-off than me had had to pay full price. Tesco do a "Bigger Pack, Better Value" range of basics, which is good news for us but hard work for their deliveryman...

If you have a freezer and eat meat, your local high street butcher will be delighted to order a half or quarter lamb, steer (beef) or pig for you. This comes ready prepared and is usually far cheaper than buying individual joints and chops. Also check out your supermarket's "reduced" shelf - big joints or chickens nearing their sell-by date are often drastically reduced and can still be frozen - but don't leave them in the freezer as long as you might a fresh joint.

"But I can't carry any more/store it all!" I hear you wail... Now I have no excuse to take a pram or pushchair with me, I can sometimes be spotted slinking along some distance behind a shopping trolley, trying to look as if it had nothing whatsoever to do with me. But it does save a lot of pulled shoulders and aching arms... Also I store non-perishable food in all sorts of unlikely places; in the garage, under shelving units, under the bed - anywhere I'll remember it and there is a good chance my teenage sons won't find it and pillage my supplies...

Is it really worth the time? Many people wonder whether I save enough to justify the time spent going to more than one shop and hunting for bargains. I like to think it is; I know I can feed 7 people and 11 pets well and reasonably healthily on less than many families of 4 spend. Then we can almost afford all the pairs of shoes, trainers & boots the aforementioned teenage sons seem to require, my store cupboards are well-stocked with healthy food - and perhaps there's a tiny element of the thrill of the chase in creative bargain-hunting, too!

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